The Bruce’s of Mariposa County
by Thomas Bruce Phillips

The Bruce family can trace it’s roots in Mariposa, California to the early 1850’s when they first migrated here from New York.

The Bruce Family originated in Perth, Scotland. The patriarch of the family was Charles Bruce Sr., He was a baker by trade and brought his family to the New York area in 1808 where it thrived. His youngest son, John J. Bruce, born in Perth Scotland in 1782, began his family in New York.

The gold rush in California lured his two oldest sons, Charles & William, to the gold fields of Mariposa in the early 1850’s. His youngest son, Albert O. Bruce would follow them in 1855. Charles and William opened a Machine shop in the lower end of town. They worked in the Machine shop and also scoured the area in search of gold. They were hard rock miners and filed many quartz claims throughout the area. The Bruce boys were well educated and talented in their pursuits. They built stamp mills to process their ore and with an ever-changing group of partners filed several claims in the Saxton Creek area.

In 1862 their father, John J. Bruce, arrived with the bulk of the family, but two members that stayed in the east. Included with John J. Bruce was his son, John Bruce Jr. and his daughters Jean L. Bruce, Catherine Bruce/Leitch and husband Bruce Mitchell Leitch, Fannie W. Bruce/Cook and husband J. J. Cook and a number of grandchildren. The family began to prosper in Mariposa, opening many businesses. J. J. Cook, who arrived with $150.000, opened a Drug and Variety store in Mariposa. His influence soon spread to Merced and San Francisco. John Bruce Jr. opened a livery stable called “Empire Stables”. He remained with this business until about 1865 when he returned to Cuba to work with his older brother, Robert K. Bruce. Jean L. Bruce soon added to the family by marrying an entrepreneur by the name of Henry Washburn.

The family continued to grow and prosper in the area. Albert O. Bruce was hired by Moses Rodgers as a Mining Engineer at the Washington Mine. J. J. Cook financed many business ventures and became involved with many of the more influential people of California. Charles Bruce became a Justice of the Peace in the 1860’s in Mariposa. Henry and Jean Washburn took over a small inn on the ever increasing route to Yosemite. Soon the rest of the family would be brought into what would become the Wawona Hotel. In 1877, Henry Washburn took on his nephew, John Bridle Bruce, son of Charles, as a partner to the Company. J. J. Cook was also brought in to the partnership and would remain so until his death in 1904. J. J. Cook found that his interest in Hotels did not stop with the Wawona Hotel. In 1883, he gained the management contract of the Black’s Hotel in Yosemite Valley and then in 1888, the Stoneman House. J. J.’s son, Jay Bruce Cook, managed the Sentinel Hotel on the Valley floor until his death in 1910. By 1877, Albert O. Bruce gave up his search for gold and begin to work at the Wawona Hotel for his nephew and in-laws.

He and his wife, Azelia Van Campen/Bruce would later homestead 360 acres in Wawona and raise seven children to adulthood. The Leitch family would also homestead in Wawona and work for the Hotel Company. Though the National Park Service has taken over the area, the influence of the Bruce family still remains in Wawona. Many structures built by the family can still be seen and are still in use today. The Bruce family still maintains a residence there.

updated January 31, 2001